Sometimes Eugene dreams of life before.
He dreams of walking through crowded halls with his hair in his eyes and heart in his throat thinking please, not today, not today. Praying for the small mercies in being forgettable, for a wicked pair of eyes to just once, look through him. Wanting nothing more than to be invisible in a world that felt like his existence was a punishment, a smear on a record, a black line of redacted information in a paper file on a wicked woman’s desk.
Just ignore them , his mother would say when he would swallow sobs and beg for intervention.
But they hurt me , he would say in desperation, they call me names that hurt. They break my things that are precious to me, that are all I have in this world.
They bruise, they draw blood, they break his will and his heart and his spirit. They feed off of his wavering endurance until he can do nothing but give them what they want. Teachers look the other way, so overwhelmed by his pathetic ability to be so sub-par in a world full of extraordinary individuals.
She would look at him with thinly veiled exasperation, in her crisp work suit and repeat her words clearer, slower, as if he was merely being obtuse.
He dreams of late nights in front of his laptop, avoiding bedtime and escaping into a world where it felt like he mattered. Where justice is served justly, all it takes is a push of a button and cruel souls are sent to their well deserved fate, wishing, wishing.
Sometimes he dreams of the turning point.
Of cracked glass on the concrete of the bleachers, the all encompassing heat of rage and pain, children’s laughter that penetrate his soul, his will. His control.
He dreams of blood in the grass. Of blue blinding light, shrill calls of the divine, the sweet sensation of retribution. Of screams and cries, of his mother’s pale, horrified face and some twisted form of justice settling into his soul.
He dreams of how good it would feel to show them he is stronger than them, release the gates of heaven and hell upon their souls and let his creations reap them for all they’re worth and make them experience real fear, make them regret it, make them hurt--
"Eugene," Delsin shakes his shoulder, yanking him away from crimson grass and his demons’ wails, met with the white popcorn texture of his friend’s bedroom and the clattering of dishes. "Hey, wake up. What do you want in your pancakes?"
"What?" He asks dumbly, sprawled on his back, taking up the entirety of the bed and probably looking a little fucked up. Delsin’s hair is down, wild from sleep and an old bitter monster wriggles in his gut when the taller smiles, that crooked grin the Rowes have mastered. Handsome. Charming. Things he could never be when he is an ugly creature in a world full of divine creations.
People like Delsin used to beat him up in the locker room for looking at them. There is no accusatory confrontation, no sneer paired with a shove against his shoulder. What are you looking at, you--
There’s only Delsin’s smile, dark brown eyes soft from sleep and warm from the glow of morning.
"Pancakes, man. What do you want in them?"
"Ch...chocolate chips and banana."
The other leaves, Eugene waiting until the door is half shut to drop back onto the sheets with a shaky sigh into his palms. He washes his face in the only bathroom of the whole house, peering at his reflection and grimacing slightly to himself. There are perpetual bags under his eyes, a genetic inheritance that leaves him looking forever tired. Tragically fitting. There are acne scars scattered along his pale skin, without the sun he is pasty and unpleasantly gaunt, hair covering his still acne’d forehead and shading his mud brown eyes.
He makes another face and leaves the bathroom.
The whole downstairs smells like warm dough and coffee, the calls of conversation pausing (not snapping to a halt, cold and isolating and sucking the air from his lungs) to take in his disheveled state in the stairway. He scratches at his shaggy neck self-consciously, aware of his ratty old t-shirt and a pair of shorts Delsin lent him forever ago.
"Good morning sunshine! You slept hard." Fetch greets from her place on the counter, eating strawberries that are out of season, but knowing her she probably likes the sour more than the sweet. Her near white hair still gets him, platinum and attention catching in the mostly warm colors of the Rowe house kitchen.
“I’m not much of a morning person,” He says through numb lips, still standing on the stair as he meets her green eyes. Her freckled face, her long pretty hair and can’t help but think, again,
Girls like her would side eye him in the hall, curl their lips in exaggerated disgust and discomfort. Make a point to scoot away when he was partnered with them. The weird nerdy kid who probably hid in his parents basement playing perverse games and letting a world of fantasy swallow him whole.
He used to dream of gathering his words just right, release a scathing come back to their stares, silence their judgement.
Fetch’s lip does not curl, she smiles, toothy and sweet and takes another strawberry.
“That’s okay, that’s why you got us. We bribe ya with pancakes and our sparkling presence.”
“ I bribe with pancakes, thank you.” Reggie mutters from his place at the stove, finally breaking his focus to send Eugene a patient, kind smile that places a rock in his stomach. He tries to smile back, knows he’s failed when the oldest’ smile falters, skirts over his figure and...says nothing.
Reggie’s pancakes are something of religious experience. He makes them from scratch; full of butter, sugar and cinnamon, fried in a heavy layer of shimmering oil until the edges are golden brown and crispy. There’s none like them, no diner, no gourmet restaurant could beat the sheer level of love and care the Sheriff puts into his cooking, especially breakfast. He doesn’t always make them. Too tired from work and more often than not skipping a meal and leaving them to their own devices, which is fine. But on mornings where all is calm, and the eldest of their group has gotten a good night’s sleep, they are blessed with his staggering ability to cook.
Eugene usually devours them, having never really had a childhood that revolved around homemade breakfast food and Saturday morning conversation. It was a stark difference to forty dollar cereal bowls, alone at a massive glass table and the clacking of high heels against real mahogany floors. Alone. Always alone.
But the sight of them does little to rid his mind of crimson pools, screams of children no older than fifteen, and his own dark thoughts.
He digs his fork in anyway, swallows the warm dough and chocolate despite the closing of his throat and growing pit in his stomach. Delsin tries to steal one of Fetch’s strawberries, a blueberry goes flying and hits someone in the eye, there’s a tired sigh from the left of the table.
He can’t get himself to laugh, watching over the rim of his glasses and feeling so far away.
Eating by himself, isolated at a table surrounded by laughter and joy. The too salty fries on his tray cold from his neglect in favor of checking HH stats. Avoiding eye contact, hiding behind the shadow of his hood and wishing. Wishing.
“Hey,” Reggie’s deep voice startles him in ways that are hard to describe, stiffening at the soft touch to his elbow. The older Rowe had long stopped grabbing at him, favoring gentle touches and guiding nudges. Firm, prompting, but not the iron clasp of fingers around the softness of his arms.
Dragged down hallways, unable to gain his footing with gym teachers muttering obscenities. His misery was always an inconvenience. Can’t believe I have to stop practice because you can’t take a few locker room talk, Sims. This is what happens when men don’t have fathers.
He always wished coach Henderson had been on the field that day.
“‘Gene, is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” He lies reflexively, tongue thick around the word and gaze burning past the older’s shoulder. Unable to look into his dark, wise eyes and see things he’d always desperately yearned for. The Sheriff was so unbearably kind once you got past his perturbed exterior; full of empathy and encouragement that made the youngest ache for things he had long forgotten in the stark white walls of his home. Delsin was lucky to have a brother like him. “Why wouldn't I be?”
“You just seemed more quiet than usual, is all.”
He tries a smile, feels it stretch skin but knows it does not look genuine without even needing to see Reggie’s expression. “I’m always quiet.”
The quiet kid. The easy target that shrinks from blows and covers his head like a scared child. Look at him cry, you gonna call your mommy? You--
He doesn’t remember walking to the beach with his fellow conduits, his memory recalling Reggie’s distant promise he’d catch up.
It’s a warm spring day, the smell of the ocean and last night’s rain leaving behind a wall of humidity. It may be warm, but the wind is wicked, blowing his fringe away from his eyes and billowing the jacket that just pushes him into too warm territory. He doesn’t take it off. Not like Fetch, who bunches her jacket into a tight, precious ball and places it on her shoes before she sprints across the soft sand of the beach, Delsin crying out for her to wait up. It’s low tide, the beach wider in expanse and the waves lapping gently against the shore, directionless yet constant. A familiar form of isolation settles into his bones, preparing himself to stand at the edge of the beach and watch when the tallest turns. Waves his hands in a grand show of invitation.
“What are you waiting for, angel boy? Get those feet in the sand!”
Eugene had never been to the beach before Washington. He had lived in a landlocked area, and probably would have died there if not for the events of his life. Sent off to Alaska in a hidden facility, surrounded by snow and cold metal. Wires taped to his head, needles threatening him at every angle, calling forth his saviors only to have them thwarted by forces bigger than He, bigger than him, bigger than every angel and demon he could dare to conjure.
Trading one form of brutality for another, begging, wishing. For what, he hadn’t even known anymore.
He remembers his first desperate gulp of air off the truck, the brine of salt and the acrid burn of smoke, gagging around it and Abigail’s wild eyes, bruises around her cheek already healing.
It was a bitter taste, freedom.
He takes off his sneakers and socks, sinks his foot into the soft gray sand, shudders a breath at the coolness of the earth, rolling up his pant legs.
Feet in the grass when he was little, damp with rain. Chasing frogs and giggling when they’d slip past his tiny fingers. A yellow toy bucket, mud on his ankles and life being something to simply experience instead of dread.
It’s too cold to swim. The ocean is a vast creature, unencumbered by one sixty degree day in march. That doesn’t stop his friends from dipping their toes into the icy water, dunking their hands into the wet sand to retrieve shells that are washed to the surface. He crouches by the lapping waves, watches the foam of the sea wash against his feet and shock his system each time.
He thinks of a hand on his head, pushing, pushing, hands braced against the fake porcelain of the school’s toilets, begging. Begging. No, please, anything but this!
Viciously washing his face, face red from scrubbing and his snotty sobbing, hair matted and wet.
I hate them. I fucking hate them.
He wishes he could say he felt bad. He wishes so desperately that the dreams were jarring because of the guilt, the knowledge he caused pain to people who could not defend themselves. Delsin had once called him a bleeding heart; full of empathy and compassion for people who didn’t have their own voice, and Eugene wonders how he can make such a claim after seeing the inside of his head. After knowing the fellow conduit had in that moment, been capable of and willing to kill for his own sense of consequence.
He is not kind.
“Hey, you,” Fetch crouches beside him, snapping him from his thoughts and prompting him to glance around. Reggie had arrived at some point, sitting on a log with Del, the two of them seeming deep in conversation about something only they really get. “You okay? You’ve been actin weird today.”
Get away from me, weirdo. God, why are you so weird? You look so weird.
But that is not a convincing enough answer, the way the neon conduit frowns, brows deep and lips morphing into a pout.
“You hardly touched your pancakes. You love Reggie’s pancakes.”
“Maybe I’m not feeling good.”
Her hand rises, he flinches from reflex, turning away and bracing for the push, for the sharp-nailed jab to his arm. Five months later, and he still braces for pain, for negative reinforcement. Fetch falters, gently places her hand on his back and rubs. His muscles relax without his consent, swallowing around the lump in his throat.
“S’okay not to feel good, I’m just worried about you is all.”
They collapse onto their asses, the damp sand unpleasant, but even conduits can only remain crouched for so long. He buries his fingers into it, clenches his fists and feels the way it gives, protruding from between his fingers in messy clumps. Fetch’s hand is still on his back, rubbing soothing circles. When was the last time anyone had done that for him?
“You know you can talk to me, right? Talk to us , we’re your friends.”
Friends. They are his friends, aren’t they? Brought together by the chaos of a tyrant, spending nights in a little motel eating bad take out and trying to plot the demise of an entire military group. Fetch and Reggie on the porch, smoking and sharing stories he’ll never understand. Delsin making clumsy, tactless jokes that earn a laugh anyway. Falling asleep on the couch and waking to a blanket on him.
They were his friends, perhaps his first ones since...he doesn’t know.
“Do you ever…” Consideration, tongue still heavy in his mouth and fingers itching with the tickle of sand. “Think about before?”
“Before?” She inquires, voice neutral and prompting. He can’t look at her. Her eyes, her care would make the walls crumble and he’d sob before he got a single word out.
“Before Seattle,” Eugene clarifies, staring off into the lapping waves, scrubs his hands against his pants knowing he’ll be shaking the sand out later. “All the things you did in your life, all the...all the choices you made.”
Quiet. He knows he shouldn’t have asked; Fetch’s past is just as complicated as his. Full of things she will not talk about, things she silently yearns for and things she seethes over. But she is the only one who really gets it. She had suffered in her youth too; her choices being her own downfall. Had been at the hands of the same cruel woman. Brokenhearted, guilt-stricken, locked in the concrete walls and forced to face her sins head on.
“Sometimes,” She confesses softly between them and the waves, tracing patterns in the wet sand. “Do you?”
More than he should. “Yes.”
“What do you think about?”
Violence. Pain. Anger. Lonely halls and a well manicured hand fussing with his hair. A faux air of affection laced exasperation.
She never called him ‘Gene. Never baby, never sweetheart. Always Eugene.
Mom . He’d say, because Irene was disrespectful.
He doesn’t answer. Fetch’s blunt, painted nails scratch against his spine and he shivers at the thoughtless affection. He thinks of Delsin’s arm around his shoulder, Reggie’s warm and steady hand on his back. His chest aches.
He is not kind. He does not deserve their kindness.
“I’m not a good person,” He murmurs, feels the burn of tears in his throat, swallows it down like he had swallowed his breakfast.
“Yes you are,” Fetch responds without missing a beat, “a bad person doesn’t do half the shit you did for complete strangers.”
A good person doesn’t think about the things he does, though.
“I hurt a lot of kids, back in high school. I released monsters on them, I wanted to hurt them, I wanted to make them feel how I felt. I wanted, I--”
Wanted them dead.
“We’ve all hurt people,” She says it like it’s not something that twists his insides, how not sorry he is. How easily he could have bent to a darker line, how it often feels like the only thing stopping him is his desperate need to be loved.
People don’t love monsters. Not really. He wonders if that's what his peers saw; somehow looked into his future and saw how horrid of a creature he would be and decided punishment was just. Their judgement was law, that he would learn through the pain of being so utterly unloved.
“People aren’t perfect, ‘gene. Everybody hurts someone, one way or another. Those kids, they hurt you didn’t they? Over, and over. Were they ever sorry?”
“They were sixteen.”
“And so were you.” Children hurting children, the agony of growing out of your childhood leaving behind raging wickedness that needed an outlet.
He looks away, tries not to think about their faces, blurred from his trauma and one too many electro-shocks to his system. Rattling his insides, wrecking his body so severely and constantly his healing often couldn’t keep up. Spiderweb scars along his wrists, blood vessels fried and stressed from his writhing against metal restraints. Jaw locked, teeth grinding trying not to scream, just this once.
Try to stay conscious, Mr. Sims.
Fetch’s arm clasps around his side, scoots into his space and rests her head on his shoulder. The water is warmer, or his toes are merely numb to the cold by now.
“You don’t gotta forget it,” She murmurs in the space between them,into the warm air of the beach, into the sky and the ocean. Words to be lost to time, yet cemented into his chest. His heart. “Pain’s a hard thing to forget.”
“Yeah,” He chokes, hesitates as he slowly, inch by inch rests his head atop hers. She smells like Reggie’s cologne and the salt of the sea.
“Just know we love you, okay?”
He loves them too. Their affection, their loyalty could kill him if he thought about it too much. Soothing a burn that never had a chance to heal, a balm on his abused soul, everything he dreamed about, everything he yearned for. He doesn’t think he’ll ever accept the idea he deserves them, but he is a selfish, bitter bastard and he wants them there in his little bubble of misery.
They were all a little broken, fissures and cracks in their appearances. Imperfections and pains that defined them as people. Jagged edges fitting like the most convoluted jigsaw puzzle to ever exist. And. Here. With them, he fit right in.
Fetch kisses his cheek, and he could cry all over again.